As he came away . . . .continued
So far the P.U.S. methods were considered suitable for girls, but people wondered about boys. A friend of mine, Mr. Underhill, who was about to start a school in Kent and who had always been rather suspicious with regard to Charlotte Mason’s teaching as presented to him through me, was persuaded to come to hear her speak at a meeting organised at my parents’ house in Kensington Palace Gardens. As he came away, entirely won over by Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, humility and inspiration, he said, ‘I take off my hat to Miss Mason. I should be proud to be allowed to work under her.’ He then engaged a ‘House of Education’ student and put his lower forms into the P.U.S.
A great joy came to Charlotte Mason when the P.N.E.U. decided to print and publish her pamphlet on A Liberal Education for All, which they circulated to all the educational committees of the country. Most of the authorities ignored it, but Mr. Household, Secretary for Education for Gloucestershire, read this pamphlet with thoughtful interest, went to see Charlotte Mason and decided to try her methods in five schools. After these five he never had to ask a principal to adopt them, he was bombarded with requests when other principals of schools saw what refreshing and real education the P.U.S. gave their children.
I remember sitting on a village seat in Gloucestershire during a school holiday and being surrounded by little children. I asked them what subjects they like best and one started sharing with me her love for and knowledge of The Voyages of Ulysses. We all like to share what we value (I am trying to share with you now my experience of early days). Another little maiden said, ‘I love Fra Angelico’s pictures.’ One cannot help feeling that her daily chores in later life would have become far less burdensome when she had the pictures of Fra Angelico’s clouds and colours in her mind.
Following her principle of embodying in her programmes of work the best that she could find, Miss Mason rejoiced when a member of the Executive Committee, Mrs. Whitaker Thompson, introduced to her notice the Perry pictures, inexpensive reproductions of Old Masters which she suggested should be used for picture-study. This was followed by beautiful reproductions prepared by Mr. Mansell and since his death we have had those prepared by the Medici Society. Picture-study in the way Charlotte Mason introduced it is still a unique feature of our school and many children will echo the young man’s exclamation when seeing Carpaccio’s ‘St. Ursula’ in Venice: ‘I learnt to know and love that in the P.U.S.—God bless it!’
Similarly, when staying with Mrs. Robert Bridges, a P.U.S. mother, Charlotte Mason saw her beautiful script writing adapted from Italian MSS. She persuaded her to publish A New Handwriting and adopted it for the P.U.S., a great revolution from copybook writing and the fore-runner of reform in handwriting.
I need not tell you what must be familiar to you all, of the feeling of loss which seemed to penetrate the whole educational world when Charlotte Mason died in 1923. There was, thank God, no real interruption in the continued growth and development of the P.U.S. Miss Mason had nominated Miss Elsie Kitching as Director of the School. She was indeed a true follower and disciple and with her long training as Charlotte Mason’s secretary and friend, and her own mental grasp of the principles underlying the whole work, parents and children alike still receive help, inspiration and guidance. Two years ago she resigned in order to write the life of our Founder. In the hands of Elizabeth Molyneux we know that the future is safe and that our work will grow from strength to strength.
Charlotte Mason’s best memorial was, and is, in the lives of her pupils, but still we felt that a tangible memorial should be organised. There was a general feeling in the outside world that Charlotte Mason methods were good ‘for little children.’ The Misses Goode had created a wonderful school at Burgess Hill, where the girls remained to take their university and professional examinations, but there seemed a demand for a girls’ public school with the amenities of large grounds, laboratories, playing fields, such as were now general in the country. It was therefore decided that the memorial to Charlotte Mason should take the form of a company, the Charlotte Mason Schools Company, which should found a school combining the amenities of an ordinary girls’ public school with P.N.E.U. methods. The response in the way of applications for shares was most encouraging, and Overstone was purchased. Mrs. Esslemont (Principal) and Miss Wix (Head Mistress) both resigned important and lucrative posts to create this great school, which has just celebrated its twenty-first birthday.
One outcome of Overstone was the fact that I was invited by the mother of a former pupil to start a P.N.E.U. school at Estoril, in Portugal, which flourished and was subsequently taken over by the government. Henrietta Bucknall, an early pupil, is now a student at Charlotte Mason College.
To complete the story of our School, after the war, in memory of the boys of members who had fallen and in gratitude for those who survived, a company was formed to established a boys’ preparatory school, Desmoor, Ewhurst. The greatest credit is due to Mr. and Mrs. Perkin for having overcome the early difficulties of such an undertaking. They have sent on boys to their public schools who show that a P.N.E.U. prep. school can well prepare them for the future. Perhaps our successors will see fit to complete the chain by founding a Senior Co-education P.N.E.U. School.
And now to pass to some of the other activities in connection with the Parents’ Union School—our Natural History Clubs. An exhibition was held at 50 Porchester Terrace in 1895, when the house was still empty of furniture, another, reading under the guidance of Mrs. Hart Davis, Charlotte Mason’s great friend and supporter. How interesting it is in this connection to think of Charlotte Mason’s joy in noting the return of the first migrant and spotting the first wild flower on her afternoon drives! Her emphasis on an understanding of nature was very new then. It has had an influence on homes through the country, and now we are all thrilled when we hear on the B.B.C., for example, that the avocet is again breeding in this country after a hundred years’ absence. Bird-watching and bird-lore have become the natural delight of hundreds. How well, too, I remember the scorn with which my ‘sticks’ were looked on when I brought them home from Ambleside to flower in my vases here, and now we are offered them on every barrow. How much joy, great and small, we owe to her! In travelling over the country and visiting home-schoolrooms and small classes or schools I could tell as I entered the hall that this was a P.N.E.U. atmosphere—twigs in vases, bowls of moss, etc., old master reproductions on the walls—Charlotte Mason was there in spirit.
We are celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Parents’ Union School with a gathering here in London. We have had other gatherings at Canterbury, Whitby, Reading, Bournemouth, London—and musical festivals as well in these last towns—and last, in 1936, at Ambleside, the memory of which may be fresh in the minds of some of you.
A word on these musical festivals. Mrs. Howard Glover was, one may say, the originator of the idea of musical appreciation. She wrote to the Parents’ Review urging that children’s musical education should not be limited to their own efforts at learning an instrument, but that they should be trained to hear and enjoy music, to become good listeners. Charlotte Mason induced her to prepare a programme of composers’ work each term, and her son Cedric continued this helpful activity. He also arranged that P.N.E.U. schools should meet and sing together, their orchestras play before an adjudicator—one is proud to remember that Sir John Barbarolli was one of these. How delightful we all were when one of the L.C.C. schools, using a P.U.S. programme, was judged to have the best orchestra, in spite of cheap violins, and received the delightful reproduction of an Italian picture presented by Mrs. Howard Glover.
Home-schoolroom children in London also had fun in reading together the Shakespeare play of the term and sharing musical appreciation classes. Nature rambles in the parks were arranged for nannies (for there were nannies then) so that they too could recognise the trees in winter and spring and greet the first flower on the elm tree—with joy. Yes, ‘Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,’ and our dear Founder helped us to realise this in our homes and schools.
This article is dedicated to Eve Anderson who gave me the magazine from which it came.
Franklin, H. (1951). The Parents’ Union School. In PUS Diamond Jubilee 1891-1951. Ambleside: PUS.
Mrs. Henriette Franklin was the Hon. Secretary of the P.N.E.U. and Chairman of Charlotte Mason Foundation.
Appreciation also goes to the Armitt Trust, Ambleside, England.